Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle


It's been a while since I last posted a book review. To be honest, it's been a long time since I read a good book! I've spent the fall and winter hibernating with fluffy stuff, and so when the library informed me it was my turn for this non-fiction account of local eating, I happily jumped in.

This is a story of famed author Barabara Kingsolver (Poisonwood Bible) and her family moving onto a farm in Appalachia, where they committed to living off the land for a full year. Specifically, they ate only food they grew on their farm or bought from farmers they know. It has all the makings of a 'holier than thou' tale of foodie farm activism, but I began it with a mind open to learning, and not to defending my own choices. Also, I am aware, Kingsolver is not here with me to defend my choices against. 

Her writing is, as always, poetic, concise and runs along a purposeful narrative. I wasn't a huge fan of the entire chapter dedicated to her turkeys' mating practices, but for the most part, I learned something new and of value to me. I was re-enlightened to things I must have learned about in basic plant biology circa grade five, but forgotten through years of exposure only to supermarkets and the occasional farmers market experience. The whole connection between seed, dirt, sunlight, rainfall and harvest is lost on me today when my $5 blueberries from the USA in April come in a plastic clam shell. In the same way that I am continually fascinated by the miracle of life growing in my belly, I am in awe of the journey food takes from seed to plate, from baby chick to chicken broth. 

I also learned, sadly, that such a year-long experience would be almost impossible to duplicate in my Yukon climate. Our ground is frozen until mid-May, and freezes again in late August. Not a very large window for the limited produce that can fully develop in a few weeks. It did give me pause to reflect on what geography was coming into my kitchen: Kiwis from Chile in March, California strawberries, and asparagus, which is supposed to be in season in closer southern climates now, but my batch came stamped from Peru.

My current fruit bowl holds organic California apples, organic bananas (unknown origin?) and Chilean kiwis.
I learned about some of the surface politics and threats facing farms today, and why it is worth my buying power to make choices that support local (or at least nationally local) farms over, say, feedlot chickens from large-scale industrial operations. Besides the politics, how can one not be squeamish when confronted with the reality that feedlot chickens often live their days in their own filth, unable to stand or turn about in a cramped cage amidst thousands of others? 

One thing I did appreciate was that this book didn't try to veer me towards vegetarianism. That's a diet choice I have toyed with before and boy did my health suffer. Argue what you want, but my body is not well-suited to a meat-free diet. In fact, this book was subtly against vegetarianism. Kingsolver instead promotes choosing meat from known sources. It was a good reminder that I needed to call Cain, our local chicken farmer, to order of a few more frozen birds. He said he'd drop them off at my house today, and reminded me the fresh chickens would be ready for pickup in June. What service!

Aside from opting for the Yukon-grown potatoes at the supermarket (which are, thankfully, clearly identified and readily available), I choose to buy produce from faraway places rather than go without. I can't imagine a life devoid of bananas (nor, I'm sure, could Hailey or Robin). I will continue making the majority of our meals from whole foods, trying to use in-season produce (it's cheaper and more nutritious!), and opting for organic (when it's not cost-prohibitive, as organic dairy products are up here). I'd rather add more good stuff into our diets than take some out, because the replacing food would, I'm sure, be nutritionally inferior, processed, and packed full of funky hormones.

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